A day marked internationally to raise awareness about overdoses has added local significance this year.
International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31 coincides with a worrying increase in opioid overdose-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths in the region since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent weeks, both Cobourg and Haliburton County have seen a rise in overdose incidents. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has noted almost double the number of opioid-related deaths in its region (Haliburton, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes) as compared to April 2019 and March 2020.
“These are more than statistics. These are real people who are overdosing and dying in our communities,” says Catherine MacDonald, a Registered Nurse and Substances and Harm Reduction Coordinator with the HKPR District Health Unit. “International Overdose Awareness Day is a time to remember those we’ve lost to overdose and to share in the grief of affected families. The day also reminds us that if we do our part, we can reduce the stigma surrounding overdose deaths and the likelihood of them happening again.”
‘Time to Remember, Time to Act’ is the theme of this year’s International Overdose Awareness Day, which is being marked locally on August 31 with events at the following locations:
- Cobourg at Victoria Hall (55 King St. W.) between 11 am and 4 pm. An evening vigil is planned at 8 pm.
- Haliburton Village at Head Lake Park (13 York St.) from 10 am to Noon.
- Lindsay’s Victoria Park (190 Kent St. W.) from 4 to 7 pm.
Community members are invited to attend any of these events. Each venue will provide a safe space for community members to remember loved ones who died from overdoses, share stories, provide support, and help break the stigma associated with overdoses. These events are hosted by HKPR District Health Unit in partnership with PARN, Green Wood Coalition, Moms Stop the Harm and the John Howard Society. Refreshments will be available at events, with COVID-19 safety measures in place.
“Let’s remember that overdoses are a health and social issue, and that with increased community awareness and action, we can save lives,” MacDonald adds.
The Health Unit reminds people who use drugs to keep these safety measures in mind:
- Test a small amount of any drug before using.
- Never use alone.
- If you are alone, call the National Overdose Response Service (NORS) virtual safe consumption at 1-888-668-NORS (6677), or practice the buddy system and call a friend.
- Call 9-1-1 in the event of an overdose.
- Keep a naloxone kit on hand. You can get a naloxone kit at most pharmacies and needle exchange sites.
- Avoid mixing drugs.
MacDonald also encourages people to intervene if they see someone who is overdosing. Call 9-1-1 and give the person naloxone. She notes the Good Samaritan Act protects anyone trying to help in an emergency from possible legal repercussions. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act also protects people on the scene of an overdose from being charged for possessing or using drugs.